January 2020
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TD Magazine

Coaching Teams to Top Performance

Teams Unleashed: How to Release the Power and Human Potential of Work Teams

By Phillip Sandahl and Alexis Phillips
Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 288 pp., $29.95


If you're an executive coach or team leader, this book is for you. Internationally known coach Marshall Goldsmith called it "an exceptional resource," and I agree. In the workplace where only one in 10 teams reports high performance, this book is relevant and timely.

In part 1, the authors describe their model for team coaching. In their work with teams, Sandahl and Phillips ask people to think of the best team they've ever been on—athletic, work, or school—and to reflect on how that team made them feel. Using feedback from thousands of participants, the authors discovered a common list of characteristics that emerged. From that list, they developed an assessment based on two dimensions: productivity and positivity, each with seven elements.

The seven productivity strengths are team leadership, resources, decision making, proactivity, accountability, goals and strategies, and alignment. The seven positivity strengths are trust, respect, camaraderie, communication, constructive interaction, diversity, and optimism.

While I don't disagree with their productivity and positivity strengths, I had some difficulty with the method of how they derived seven elements in each category and not, say, five or even 10. The authors explain, "From a large list of possibilities, we settled on seven that we believe—and research supports—are essential for teams … to excel." However, what is most impressive: Their cadre of certified coaches have used the assessment with great success on thousands of teams.

The authors also explain the team coaching process well. The three phases outlined are discovery, assessment, and action; ongoing coaching; and completion and next steps.


In part 2, the authors focus on the essential coaching competencies necessary for team coaching: being system aware, tuned-in, a reflective observer, actively present, and committed—acting as the team's champion.

This section focuses squarely on the team coach. Each of the five chapters methodically covers the necessary core competencies, as well as offers stories, statistics, and sample coaching dialogues, which I found particularly helpful. Coaches will feel like they're sitting in on a session; they will see and hear themselves summarize, spin and fade, question, listen for assumptions, notice the elephant in the room, identify voices, and much more. As one who practices executive team coaching, I found this section both affirming and enlightening.

About the Author

Distinguished executive coach, author, and speaker, Steve Gladis is a leadership expert. CEO of Steve Gladis Leadership Partners—a leadership development company—he is the author of 21 books on leadership and a professor at George Mason University in the Mason Institute for Leadership Excellence. His company works with businesses, associations, and U.S. government agencies, and he speaks regularly at conferences and corporate gatherings. A former faculty member at the University of Virginia, Gladis also served as an FBI special agent and was a decorated officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. His company donates a significant portion of corporate profits back to the community. His most recent books are Smile. Breathe. Listen: The 3 Mindful Acts for Leaders and Positive Leadership: The Game Changer at Work. Twitter: @SteveGladis Leadership Blog: Survival Leadership

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